Why Saying “Congratulations” Matters

For today’s post, we asked our friend Dan Quist, Church Relationship Coordinator at Elim Christian Services, to share this personal story on the importance of celebrating each newborn’s life.
babyfeet - storyvillegirl

Photo credit: storyvillegirl, https://flic.kr/p/7vDUa9

I had the opportunity to present the 5 Stages at a church in Hudsonville, Michigan, in January 2014 and in attendance was a friend of mine from high school.  I have not kept in contact with her, outside of seeing her Facebook posts, since we graduated in 2002.

Because we were friends on Facebook I was aware she and her husband had their third child about 11 months ago and he was born with Down syndrome.  She of course, like every new proud parent, posted a picture of him on Facebook with all his birth stats and explained he was born with Down syndrome.  Without even giving it any real thought I just wrote the typical “Congratulations!” on her post and then wrote a little bit about how I work at Elim and I would be more than happy to walk down this road with them as they figure out their sons unique needs.  Keep in mind I must have been the 50th or 60th person to comment on this post.

quist_quote2Before I posted it on her wall I sat there staring at it thinking, “What if she gets mad? What if she responds, ‘Who do you think you are, not talking to me in 11 years and the first thing you say to me is this?’” I was worried about her reaction, but I posted it anyway.  Flash forward to me talking to her face to face in Hudsonville about the day Owen was born; and for the first time I found out her reaction.  Through tear-filled eyes she recounted the details of that day and then mentioned my comment on Facebook.  She told me I was the first person to say, “Congratulations…everything was going to be ok…her son was going to be an incredible blessing in their life.”

Thinking back on this story has reminded me of a couple of things.

First, every life…EVERY life, is a blessing from God. Whether a baby is born without deficiencies, or with Down syndrome, or with cerebral palsy….. each life is created in the image of God.  My friend’s son was born with Down syndrome and will live with it his entire life, but God has a plan for him just like every baby born that day, or week, or month.

Secondly, I’m reminded that disability awareness is lacking in our world. We need to help others recognize that a baby born with a disability is not something to mourn.  God creates each of us uniquely, with different abilities.  Our abilities or inabilities do not determine our value; we have value because of who we all are – God’s children.  God has placed a call on each of our lives, including the lives of those with disabilities, and we need to equip each other and all of God’s children to answer that call.

We need to change attitudes.

I hope my story helps you start by saying, “Congratulations!”

Quist PhotoDan Quist has been the Church Relationship Coordinator at Elim Christian Services since 2012.  He has also served as a paraprofessional in Elim’s Autism program.  Quist has a degree in Secondary Education and a Master’s in Educational Administration.  He resides in Palos Heights, IL with his wife and two kids.

Donor Profile: Bob and Trudy Van Wieren

Van Wieren imageBob and Trudy Van Wieren have spent most of their lives in Christian schools, since they met as first graders at Highland Christian School in Highland, Indiana.  Over that long history, they have witnessed the transformation that inclusive education has brought to Christian schools, making them passionate advocates for CLC Network’s mission of creating inclusive communities.

As young students, Bob and Trudy recall a common lack of understanding for people with disabilities.  Kids with disabilities weren’t part of the community, and often didn’t attend church or school with other students.  Trudy and Bob contrast that with the experiences of their own grandchildren, who are attending inclusive schools.

“Our kids and grandchildren will never say they are afraid of those who have different needs,” shares Trudy.  “I’m not even sure those differences are even in their vocabulary.  Their friendships with students in special education are simply matter-of-fact.”

Bob and Trudy moved to Byron Center, Michigan in 1985 for Bob’s position as principal at Byron Center Christian School.  One of his first tasks was to start a special education program at the school, so he met with the Christian Learning Center to learn how to do it.

Trudy and Bob give credit CLC Network’s executive director, R.H. “Bear” Berends, for launching fully inclusive programs at area Christian Schools. “His legacy is really incredible.  When he started talking about all of our children being part of the covenant, about belonging to all of us, that really made sense to me,” recalls Bob.  “The school community never really balked at the idea, it just felt like this is the way the Kingdom is supposed to be.

Bob has worked at Christian Schools International (CSI), Calvin Christian Schools, and today serves as Accreditation Program Director for CSI.  He often travels the country visiting Christian schools on behalf of CSI.

“Many Christian schools are realizing that they should include kids with disabilities, but they just don’t know how,” Bob shares.  “Sharing CLC Network’s help is really important right now.”

As current Board President, Bob devotes a significant amount of time to guiding CLC Network’s future.  He’s excited to see CLC Network grow to serve schools across the country and to meet those community’s needs.

Trudy recalls learning about a family who had to send their daughter far away to become part of a community, when students with those same disabilities were getting on the bus in their home communities with her own kids.  Trudy and Bob ask, “Why wouldn’t you want your children to see all of us as part of God’s Kingdom?


To encourage our online friends to give, a generous donor will TRIPLE your online gift through the end of 2013. Give now to help us offer our services at a reduced rate to schools and churches across the country.

The Gift of Presence: Reflections on “Including Isaac”

Including Isaac titlepageCLC Network recently teamed up with Kala Project to share the story of Isaac, a student at Byron Center Christian, and the way inclusive education has impacted his life and the life of the school. Watch the film at this link.

When you look at a person, what do you see? My first encounter with Isaac was through an article I read about a group of Calvin College engineering students who recently built a new mobility cart for Isaac. My reactions were as follows:

1. Wow, this boy has some pretty severe disabilities.

2. Wow, that mobility cart is amazing. How did they come up with that?

3. Wow, what a cool thing, that this boy is able to be mobile and active in his school.

This was the extent of my observations. I saw Isaac as a boy with special needs and didn’t give it a second thought.

James Kessel filming Isaac at school

Recently, I was given the opportunity to tell Isaac’s story through the Kala Project. If you aren’t familiar with Kala Project, we exist to share stories through film that would otherwise go untold. Before going into production of “Including Isaac”, the only thing planned was to interview family, friends, teachers, and of course Isaac himself. Our goal was to simply listen and let Isaac’s story and the impact of inclusive education come to life through many voices.

During the editing process, something about what these people were saying struck me. I was familiar with the idea of inclusive education, but when it comes down to it, inclusive education is a radical thing. In our society, we often are given value by how much we have to offer and how well we perform. But with inclusive education and in the case of Isaac, we are to live by a different set of values. We are to see people with Kingdom eyes. These are the eyes of inclusivity, eyes that see beneath the surface.

Isaac with friends

The story of Isaac challenged me to meet him at a place deeper than the “special needs” label. I was able to see Isaac for the precious person that he really is. Although he does have many gifts to offer, Isaac’s value (as well as our own) is not ultimately found there. Our value is found in our very being.

To me, that is the beauty of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (good or bad) or what we have to offer. What matters is the wild idea that God loves us for who we are and delights in our very existence. Isaac’s greatest gift is deeper than what he teaches others or contributes to his community: his greatest gift is simply the gift of his presence. For in the deepest part of a human being we see the image of God, where the presence of Christ dwells. In Isaac, in you, in me. When we look at a person, is that what we see?

Isaac and his friend

Learning from the story of Isaac, let us look beyond labels and see people with new eyes, recognizing the inherent worth of their presence. May the inclusivity of not only our schools but also our hearts match the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom. And may we never look past the simple yet profound reality of God’s presence among and within us, experienced in the presence of each other.

James Kessel James Kessel is a 2011 graduate of Calvin College with a degree in psychology (he also attended Byron Center Christian, where Isaac attends). He is currently the post-production manager at Bradley Productions, a video production team in Grand Rapids, and often collaborates with Kala Project.

Maybe It’s All in the Attitude

Every Christian is on a Journey of Disability Attitudes

Four years ago, I was at a restaurant with other members of our team from Elim Christian Services, an organization in the Chicago area that provides resources for hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and for the people who serve them. Our server came over and went around the table asking each of us our names. When she came across two of our friends with disabilities, her tone changed from peer-to-peer to adult-to-child. I thought she was just being nice, until she used the same tone on me because I have a speech impediment. I sound like (and I am) a person with a developmental disability.

I was annoyed, offended, and later I got angry. For the entire 37 years of my life I had avoided being categorized with people who had disabilities, not being treated like them.

My experience with the restaurant server made me realize that the very attitudes I hated about other people were the same attitudes I myself had towards people with disabilities. I realized it was all about my attitude, and that perhaps if I tried to make sense of my own journey I might be able to help others. That night, I started working on a self-assessment tool called “The 5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes,” and I’m excited to share it with you today. I hope it will help you encourage others to change their attitudes as well.

Where are You on the Journey?

Working with many others, I have identified 5 stages that we all (yes, you too) have the opportunity to go through as our attitudes toward people with disabilities change. Here they are:

5 Stages Chart



Weaknesses and disabilities are a sign that God either does not care or is not able to fix the situation. In fact, disability may be a result of sin or a lack of faith. I have no interest in getting to know them or to know more about their lives.


I feel sorry for people with disabilities. It’s too bad, really. I am blessed by God and I can help others. I am grateful that my children are not disabled. I really don’t see any meaning or purpose to their lives.


Like me, people with disabilities were created in God’s image. By that virtue alone they have value. I hope that someone will take the time to show them God’s love, and I will happily support such an effort. In fact, I think we need to find ways to help those people.


I have a friend who has a disability.  This person has value in God’s sight, but also in mine, and I know that my life is better for having known this person, and as much as I have helped her, she has also blessed me.


If God has called each of us to serve and praise Him with every fiber of our beings, then He has done the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ with disabilities. I think ministry should not just be to people with disabilities, but with or alongside people who have disabilities. We can all give and we can all receive.

If It’s All in the Attitude, What Will You Do to Change It?

So, with these 5 Stages in your hand, I hope that you will do the following:

  1. Assess your own disability attitude and identify one step you can take to change that attitude for the better. (I’d love to hear what that step is – let me know by commenting below.)
  2. Familiarize yourself with the spectrum of attitudes (you can even use the diagram provided here) so that you can share it easily with others.
  3. Commit to simply showing the diagram to two other people and asking them for their thoughts. You’ll be amazed at the conversations you’ll have!

Learn more about the 5 Stages in this video from Dan and his friends at Elim Christian Services.



 Dan Vander Plaats ImageDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Stewardship at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, IL, a ministry that provides resources to children and adults with special needs, and training resources to those who serve them. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009 he compiled “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes,” a document that helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church.

Practical Thoughts on Faith & ADHD

The following is the final piece in a 3 part series on faith & ADHD by Oren Mason, M.D. Read part 1 and 2 at these links: “How Treating ADHD Helped Heal My Faith” and “How My Faith Brought Healing to My ADHD

If you are disillusioned regarding spiritual matters, ADHD treatment might give you a new opportunity to re-experience your faith. Disillusionment may represent frustration over how ADHD degraded the practice of your faith. Maybe you are a discouraged believer, not an unbeliever. If you have left a church or the practice of a faith because you did not “fit in”, that might not mean you have lost your faith. Maybe it means that you feel left out or disconnected.

Consider that some changes may help you find a more “ADHD-friendly” worship experience. Several years ago, my family began attending a non-traditional church. It is multi-racial, located in a struggling inner-city neighborhood. There are many mixed-race couples in the church along with residents from a drug-rehab house, college students, immigrant families, suburban families and everybody else in between.

Nobody is “normal”, so anybody and everybody fits in. The music is lively and varied, the sermons are brief and thought-provoking, and the worship sequence changes every week, so that it is not predictable. This novelty factor is tremendously helpful for me, and, I suspect, would be for most people with ADHD.

Forgiveness is a central theme in most religions, and I believe it should be a central theme in our healing as well. We blame ourselves constantly; life is better when we learn to forgive ourselves. We blame others quickly; we need to learn to forgive them more easily. The practice of communion has been a wonderful part of my faith. The message of the service is: “God forgives you, so follow his example by forgiving yourself and others.” It’s been revolutionary for me.

To everyone who does believe in God, even if it only seems a tiny and inconsequential part of you, I encourage you to return to your roots and re-examine your spirituality. Life is hard, even after ADHD is well-treated. By the time he was nine, my son, Ben (who also has ADHD), could already tell you how harsh this world can be, and how much we need an anchor.

Anchors are pretty small things compared to the boats they secure. The question is not how big our anchors are. The question is rather how solid is the rock to which they are affixed.

“May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Amen” 

This piece is an excerpt from “Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD from a Fellow Traveler” by Oren Mason, M.D.

Oren Mason IMGOren Mason, M.D. is a father, husband, ADHD patient, and physician at Attention MD. He wrote “Reaching for a New Potential” in 2009 after being diagnosed with adult ADHD. He hopes this book can serve as a source of encouragement and hope for those traveling a similar path.